What to Know About Self-Stimulating Behaviors and ADHD
As a kid, anytime I watched TV, read a book, or engaged in an activity where I had to sit for long periods, I would rock back and forth (a self-stimulating behavior). To my parents, watching me rock backward and bang the back of my head up against the couch was not odd since my brother was also a "headbanger" as they would jokingly call it. Recently, I learned that my means of self-soothing as a child is called stimming—and there's a connection between self-stimulatory behavior and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
What Is Self-Stimulating Behavior or Stimming?
Stimming is an abbreviation for self-stimulating behavior, and for the most part, it's a quite normal and socially acceptable thing to do. Some people engage in forms of self-stimulation when they're bored or experiencing discomfort, and it isn't a cause for concern. Examples of stimming include1:
- Hair twirling
- Pen tapping
- Nail biting
- Cheek chewing
How Stimming Relates to ADHD
I do want to point out that the stimming I refer to here is different than stimming commonly associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). One of the main differences between non-autistic stimming and ASD-related stimming is the severity and the duration.1 I won't go deep into the details here, but the distinction needs to be clear.
For a child or adult with ADHD, repetitive self-stimulating behavior happens when sensory overload occurs or while trying to concentrate.1 Truth be told, as I write this blog post, I'm actively rocking back and forth while simultaneously twirling my curls in my left hand (some things never change).
Why Self-Stimulation Occurs with ADHD
It's believed that when a child or adult with ADHD stims, it's to engage their senses in times of boredom, cope with overwhelming stimuli, minimize stress or, as previously stated—help with concentration. Non-autistic stimming also tends to be shorter in duration (under an hour). Generally speaking, stimming doesn't always indicate that something is wrong, and it doesn't usually require intervention. But I do want you to be aware of it in case you've observed this behavior in yourself or your child—especially if ADHD is of concern.
- Oelze, P., "Repetitive Behaviors In Children With ADHD: Stimming, Fidgeting, And What These Actions May Mean." BetterHelp, July 1, 2020.
Ansah, T. (2020, July 1). What to Know About Self-Stimulating Behaviors and ADHD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 3 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/livingwithadultadhd/2020/7/what-to-know-about-self-stimulating-behaviors-and-adhd
Author: Tonie Ansah
Marking this down as a good resource! Even right now I’m fidgeting with my ears and cracking my knuckles, and I do this all the time but I think this time it’s specifically to help me focus on reading since my family are having an interesting conversation in the background right now?